Japan Wants Supersonic Glide Bombs To Protect Disputed Islands from China

Earlier this week, we published a summary of an internal document via Kyodo News from China's People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that specified a military crisis at sea between China and Japan could be on the horizon.

The internal report, authored by two Chinese military officials at the Naval Military Research Institute and Dalian Naval Academy, suggested that the probability of a significant military crisis at sea between both countries is rapidly increasing due to disputes over islands in the East China Sea. In particular, the Japan-owned Senkakus Islands, which are also claimed by China, where the land masses are known as the Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.

"The Diaoyu clearly possess economic and sovereign value, but its military significance is even more evident," the PLA report states. "Its location is strategically important if we choose to take Taiwan by force. It is also important in competing with Japan for maritime rights."

Not long after the PLA report surfaced, officials of the Defence Ministry in Tokyo told Jiji Press news agency that it plans on funding the next generation of supersonic glide bombs designed to defend its outer islands from enemy forces [China].

Funding for the program has already been set aside, while an additional 13.8 billion yen ($122 million) has been requested for 2019.

Garren Mulloy, a professor of international relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University, said the new weapon would be used in tandem with cruise missiles to thwart the take over of the highly contested islands in the East China Sea.

"Up until now, the Japanese have been very short of these precision-guided munitions, especially in comparison to the US, Nato or the Russians, so it comes as no surprise that they want to look into these sorts of weapons," he said.

The weapons are expected to be deployed aboard mobile, land-based launchers.

"Given Tokyo’s concern over the possibility of China occupying the Diaoyu Islands – the archipelago in the East China Sea that Tokyo controls but Beijing claims – it is possible that the first units would be deployed on islands within range of that potential flashpoint," said The South China Morning Post.

The South China Morning Post also said the missile systems would launch a projectile 12 miles above sea level before the glide bomb/warhead separates and is guided at speeds of more than 768 mph.

The glider's speed and steep angle of approach could render some missile defense systems obsolete. This weapon is similar to the hypersonic glider that China, Russia, and the US are currently testing in separate defense programs.

Mulloy said, "it was likely that the new bombs would be designed for use against military vehicles, fixed emplacements, buildings and smaller ships, such as troop-carrying vessels, while cruise missiles would still be used to attack larger ships."

The glide bomb comes as Japan, faced with Chinese territorial claims, is boosting its 2019 defense budget by 2%. The budget calls for a 200% funding increase for missile defense, including two land-based versions of the US Navy's Aegis missile defense system. Also, the budget calls for upgrading F-15 fighters and purchasing six F-35 stealth fighters. Northrop Grumman was recently awarded a $153 million contract to deliver a fourth E2-D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft to Japan.

It seems Japan could soon be relying on missiles to defend sovereignty over islands geographically closer to China and Taiwan than mainland Japan raises new concerns. "Due to their long range, glide bombs, along with Japan’s planned long-range cruise missiles, could be construed as offensive in nature and therefore raise concerns in neighboring countries," the Japan Times said.

While neighboring countries include China and also Russia both have territorial disputes with Japan, both have nuclear arsenals and both could mistake a supersonic glide missile launch as a more powerful missile.

As a result, we can now add the smoldering China-Japan maritime crisis to the list of powderkegs ready to ignite into a regional, or global, armed conflict.